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David Ornstein: Premier League’s Bid to Close FFP Loophole Rejected

Premier League’s Struggle to Close Financial Fair Play Loophole

The Premier League’s recent attempt to amend its financial fair play rules has faced a setback, highlighting the ongoing challenges in regulating club finances. An article by The Athletic outlines the league’s failed proposal to close a loophole that allows clubs to use profits from the sale of tangible assets like hotels and training grounds in their financial submissions.

The Proposal and Its Failure

At the Premier League’s annual general meeting in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the league proposed a rule change to prevent clubs from exploiting one-off profits from property sales. However, the proposal garnered support from only 11 out of 20 clubs, falling short of the required two-thirds majority. This outcome underscores the difficulty of achieving consensus among top-flight clubs on financial regulations.

As The Athletic reports, “An attempt by the Premier League to close a loophole that lets clubs use one-off profits from the sale of hotels, training grounds or other tangible assets in their financial fair play submissions has failed.” This failure marks a significant moment in the league’s ongoing efforts to tighten its financial oversight.

The Chelsea Incident and Its Impact

The push for this amendment gained momentum following Chelsea’s controversial move to sell two hotels and car parks at Stamford Bridge to a sister company for £76.5 million. This transaction allowed Chelsea to turn a substantial loss into a more manageable deficit, sparking widespread anger and prompting the Premier League to reconsider its rules.

The Athletic highlights this incident, noting, “Widespread anger about that transaction forced the Premier League to look at its rulebook again.” This reaction from other clubs underscores the frustration with loopholes that allow for financial manoeuvring at the expense of fair play.

Challenges in Implementing New Rules

The proposed amendment faced criticism for its broad wording, which did not clearly differentiate between legitimate non-football revenues and manipulative accounting practices. Clubs were concerned that the new rule could inadvertently stifle legitimate revenue-generating activities, such as building hotels or indoor arenas.

According to insiders quoted by The Athletic, the proposal’s failure was partly due to its vague language: “It did not clearly distinguish between the type of non-football revenues that clubs believe they should be encouraged to exploit, such as building hotels, houses or indoor arenas, and the accountancy tricks of selling existing property to yourself.” This lack of clarity suggests that future proposals will need to be more precisely defined to gain wider acceptance.

Future Steps and Continued Efforts

Despite this setback, it is almost certain that the Premier League will revisit this issue. The league believes it needs more robust tools to regulate club finances effectively and ensure sustainability and fair competition. The Athletic indicates that the Premier League is likely to refine its proposal and present it again in the future.

Additionally, the league faced other defeats at the same meeting, including a proposal for mandatory self-reporting of financial rule breaches and a requirement for clubs to consult the league before taking legal action. These proposals were also met with resistance, reflecting broader concerns about regulatory trust and autonomy among clubs.

However, the Premier League did see some success with an informal vote to trial a new cost-control measure. This “anchoring” regime will link squad spending to the central income of the league’s last-placed club, running alongside the new squad cost rules in a shadow format next season.

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